When we preach poetry, do our listeners really feel the force of it? Poetry is found in the Psalms and wisdom literature, of course, but also in the historical books and the prophets too. All too easily we can preach to the head, but not move the listeners with the force of the text.
A couple of thoughts on this:
1. Word images may not carry instant force, so we should build it. For example, when the Psalms speak of the heavens, the stars, the sun and moon, etc., there is a big difference between most listeners today and the original hearers of the text. They lived under the stars. Once the sun went down the rhythm of life changed and stargazing was as normal as TV gazing is for some today. So a brief reference to how amazing it is to look at the stars and feel so small (as in Psalm 8 ) will simply not move contemporary listeners like the original reference would have done. Today we have to build an awareness of our smallness (thankfully we have NASA and the Hubble telescope to help generate a sense of smallness!)
2. The structure of a poem, the shift in content, may not be apparent to our listeners, so we should clarify and demonstrate it. If the poem was read carefully straight through, the discerning reader would probably pick up on the transition that occurs. The problem with preaching though is that the extra words may obscure the transitions instead of clarifying them. There is a major transition at the mid-point of Psalm 73. Yet if the preacher is droning in their voice, or simply moving methodically through a series of points, that dramatic transition may easily be missed.
3. Emotive language can so easily be made informational. As I’ve probably written elsewhere on this site, it is so easy to dissect a frog to learn how it jumps, but in doing so we stop it doing so. A dissected poem is not enough for effective preaching.
People listening need to feel the force of poetry so that it can mark their lives deeply, as God intends.